The waters between Canada and Washington’s mainland are dotted with the San Juan Islands, featuring nine major land masses and more than 100 satellite islands. Discover the small towns of the San Juan Islands region of Washington for locally farmed treats, unhurried beach escapes and well-preserved architecture reminiscent of a simpler time.
Read the other articles in our series about Washington small towns, organized by region (in no particular order): Metro Seattle, North Cascades, Peninsulas & Coast, The Gorge, The Volcanoes, North Central, Wine Country, Northeast and Southeast.
Even back at the turn of the century, Orcas Island produced enough fruit to export to the mainland, and the agro-focus has stuck. Tucked inside the horseshoe of Orcas, Eastsound is the island’s hub. Its seasonal farmers' market is always hopping, and it feels like every restaurant is supplied by a local’s chickens, the rhubarb patch down the road or some sweet community farm.
The littlest San Juan served by a ferry, Shaw is 7.7 square miles of tranquility. It’s known for its concentration of nuns — the habit-wearing ladies ran the ferry terminal until 2004 — and it has only one store, ensuring it remains the perfect place for a quiet retreat.
Nicknamed “Slow-pez” for its residents’ love of a leisurely, unhurried lifestyle, Lopez Island is a patchwork of 29.5 square miles filled with lush green forest, bucolic farmland and splendid beaches. Named for a Spanish pilot who helped map the San Juans, Lopez isthe southernmost and flattest island in the archipelago, making it a popular spot for tourists on two wheels. The perfect bike trip starts or ends (or both) with a visit to Holly B’s Bakery for a luscious marionberry scone or an almond butterhorn.
Tucked inside Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, Coupeville has some outstanding examples of architecture through the ages, from log cabin–esque blockhouses to regal Queen Anne homes. After walking through the history of Washington’s second-oldest town, taste it at Toby’s, a tavern with its own long history (it was built in the late-1800s) that serves up Penn Cove mussels right on the water.
Located midway between Freeland and Coupeville on a skinny stretch of Whidbey Island, this tiny community was once the loganberry-growing capital of the U.S. The town’s fruity history is preserved in the divine loganberry pie from Whidbey Pies at Greenbank Farm. Establishedmore than a hundred years ago, the farm has remained central to the town. It now holds galleries and shops selling wine, cheese and (of course) pie.
Perched on a north-facing bluff on the south end of Whidbey Island, this is a quintessential seashore destination. Cedar-shingled shops mingle with tiny wine bars and art galleries showcasing local works and wares. The Star Store, right on First Street, is an all-purpose shop with everything from rain boots to ramekins; there’s even a restaurant, Prima Bistro, on the roof.